The prisons watchdog has placed its third English prison into emergency measures in less than a year, a move that is unprecedented within the current inspections regime.
His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) issued an ‘urgent notification’ to HMP Woodhill last week following concerns around record levels of violence, drug use, and a lack of education opportunities for prisoners.
An urgent notification is issued when the inspector has ‘significant concerns about the treatment and conditions of those detained’, effectively putting the prison into emergency measures, and requires the Secretary of State to respond within 28 days.
The concerns raised about Woodhill follow two urgent notifications issued to HMP Bristol and HMP Exeter. At Bristol, eight men had taken their own lives since the previous inspection, most of whom had done so in the last ten months, and one man had been charged with murdering his cell mate. At the time of Exeter’s inspection it had the highest rates of suicide and self-harm for a prison of its kind in the country.
This third notification comes as an inmate of HMP Wandsworth remains on the loose after escaping on Wednesday morning. The escape, seemingly from the kitchen where the terror suspect was working, has raised questions about under-staffing and overcrowding in the prison.
Speaking on the BBC’s World at One on Thursday, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, said a lack of staff had ‘dogged’ HMP Wandsworth. His watchdog last inspected the prison in late 2021, when staffing was 30% below what was required to maintain safety for prisoners and staff.
Speaking on overcrowding in English prisons, Taylor described a ‘vicious cycle’ caused by low staffing, meaning prisoners can’t be let out of their cells, which causes greater frustration and violence, and leads to greater staffing losses. On one shift, there were only seven guards responsible for 1500 inmates, reported the BBC.